Does it ever feel like alcohol is available and encouraged…..everywhere? From baby showers to brunch, from sporting events to birthday parties, it seems like everywhere you turn these days people are having a drink to “relax” or “take the edge off.” Over the past few years I’ve noticed this trend in my social life and my counseling practice. And I think there are some really big reasons why this is happening and options for what to do about it.

Modern adults face a lifestyle that is more stressful and isolating than any generation prior. Between non-stop, 24/7 demands from work, extended commutes and little to no support from extended family in the process of raising children, people are desperate to get some relief from the daily pressures of life. Here are five contributing factors for why people are turning to alcohol (or marijuana) to cope:

Too much responsibility- Individuals today are carrying the burden of being “independent” in ways that humans have never been expected to before. One person is supposed to provide for herself/himself in ways that are just not possible (in a healthy manner). Humans are tribal beings; before the industrial age, we all lived in cooperative groups where each person understood they were dependent on the group to get their needs met. We are still biologically wired this way. We’ve created a society that frames our biology as “needy”, “weak” and “immature.” Trying to reconcile our biology with modern expectation often ends up creating a feeling of shame or not being _______ enough. Because everyone “should” be independent and self sufficient. Not only is this unreasonable, it can become toxic. Instead we need to get clarity on what effective and ineffective dependence are, because we are all dependent on other people to live happy, fulfilling lives. When we feel isolated, overwhelmed and lonely it’s much easier to turn to the bottle (or joint) to get some relief than to cultivate healthy relationships. Recommendation: Decide when to ask for help and/or opt out of activities when you have too much on your plate.

Separation from nature- Most people spend the majority of their working hours in front of a computer screen and/or traveling (Car, plane, Mass transit, etc.). This goes against our fundamental, human need to interact with the earth. Humans are energetically (both chemically and electrically) balanced by direct contact with the earth; historically this meant bare feet on the ground, getting our hands dirty to plant food, and sleeping on the ground. With the sterility of modern world, most people are rarely touching earth. This prevents us from harmonizing naturally with earth and produces chemical imbalances. So what do we do… reach for a beer or glass of vino to get that dopamine/serotonin rush and suddenly we feel better. Recommendation: Make it priority to spend time in nature regularly; grounding/earthing, camping, hiking, skiing, whatever suits your soul.

Political/Social culture of constant conflict- American culture is being shaken up and has become an extremely high conflict area in the past 2 years. Since the 2016 election there has been a clear divide in our country regarding how people are treated and if respect is something that everyone deserves. Regardless of where your opinions fall on this topic, it is stress inducing for everyone to witness such pervasive examples of negative/toxic conflict around your value system or beliefs. Things getting too stressful at Holiday dinners when politics come up? Nothing like a little liquid courage to help you say all the things you’ve been holding in for months/years or help you just disengage because it all feels so futile. Recommendation: Limit how much news you watch or how much conflict you expose yourself to. There is value in staying informed; however, it becomes unhealthy when watching the news becomes compulsive and a way of feeding underlying anxiety.

Poor communication skills/conflict resolution skills- Most of the adults I see (and this includes me prior to starting my own therapy process) have limited or poor communication skills and even weaker conflict resolution strategies. In a society that worships power/dominance and vilifies compassion as weakness, it’s not hard to see why most people get so mixed up around their own emotions. Over time this can cause serious strains within relationships and damage or kill emotional bonds. So what do people usually do when their relationships have just gotten too complicated…. Yep, you guessed it, pour themselves a drink to help cope with all the emotional turmoil. Recommendation: Learn better/healthier ways of expressing yourself by reading, going to therapy, or taking a class. Emotional intelligence has never been needed more than now.

Financial stress/strain- The middle class has been shrinking in size over the last few decades and projections anticipate even more constricting/reduction over the coming years. This means there are people with more education (and debt) making less money than ever before. In turn this causes crazy amounts of stress as older generations apply their “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” and “this is America, if you’re not successful it’s because you’re not working hard enough,” mentality. As a result, younger/middle aged adults feel tremendous amounts of shame and resentment that they worked harder than their parent and receive less compensation only to be told it’s their own fault. Easiest way to turn those feelings of frustration and inadequacy off….have a cold one or six. Recommendation: Practice self compassion/acceptance and invest financially in the things that add to your quality of life (experiences, help maintaining your home/yard, etc.) rather than material/status possessions.

It’s easy to see why so many Americans have turned to alcohol (or marijuana) to help cope with the daily stressors of life. Unfortunately what is initially a short term solution to feeling stressed out often becomes a long term problem of substance dependence. And in turn this makes it impossible for the person to connect with other people, only furthering the underlying problems of isolation, loneliness, and feelings of being overwhelmed. And just because something is common, like alcohol dependence, doesn’t make it normal or healthy.

Have you noticed this epidemic, too? Where is the most surprising or absurd place you’ve ever seen alcohol being offered?

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